Henry B. Plant: The King of Florida

July 21, 2015 20 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jacksonville and much of Florida owes a lot of gratitude to this railroad tycoon, whose 19th century infrastructure investments have paved the way for a 21st century Florida.

As he expanded his network, cities such as Sanford, Orlando, Kissimmee, Lakeland, Plant City (named after Plant), Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg began to grow. New industrial cities, attracting thousands of immigrants also sprouted up along his railroad.

Ybor City was established as a cigar manufacturing town along Henry B. Plant's railroad to Tampa.

One example was Ybor City, just northeast of downtown Tampa. Founded in the 1880s by Cuban cigar manufacturers, the community attracted thousands of immigrants from Cuba, Spain, and Italy to roll millions of cigars annually.

This map illustrates the location of Plant's and Flagler's 19th century hotels throughout the state. Courtesy of Floridahistory.org

In addition, Plant developed several hotels and resorts throughout Florida, along his railroad lines. They included the PICO Hotel in Sanford (1887) for the accommodation of his railroad and steamship passengers to Central Florida, Hotel Punta Gorda (1887), Inn at Port Tampa (1888), Hotel Kissimmee (1890), Seminole Hotel (1891), The Ocala House (1883), and the Fort Myers Hotel (1898).

His most lavish hotels, the Tampa Bay Hotel, which served as the military headquarters during the Spanish American War, and the Belleview Biltmore (near Clearwater) were completed in 1891 and 1897.

Henry B. Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel is now a part of the University of Tampa's campus in downtown Tampa.

Inside the Henry B. Plant Museum in the Tampa Bay Hotel.  The museum preserves the character of residing in a 19th century lavish resort.

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